July 5, 2011
Setting the Line--Mid-season Update
Last spring in this space I introduced a contest entitled “Setting The Line,” wherein I selected two key players from each American League and National League team, set a benchmark for what their 2011 season might produce in a given metric, and invited participants to speculate about whether each player would score Over or Under that line. Now that we’ve reached an approximate midpoint to the season, I thought it worthwhile to take a look at where these players are compared to their set line and identify how well our readers have done at picking the over/under, both collectively and individually.
Each table below shows the lines for players in a given division. The “Forecast” column essentially doubles counting stats to give an approximation as to where each player may wind up at the end of the season, while leaving rate stats alone. The “Forecast O/U” indicates whether this forecast final value would be Over (O) or Under (U) the line, while the “Crowd Choice” column shows what the majority of our participants picked for that player. Obviously, this forecast is an extremely crude measure that doesn’t take injuries or roster status into account, but it should work fine for entertainment purposes. All statistics listed are through the games of July 3rd.
Our readers wisely considered the health of Brandon Webb and the transient plate stylings of Daric Barton to be bad bets, while believing in the continuing value of Adrian Beltre and Trevor Cahill. Vernon Wells is just barely behind his predicted home run pace, but his .210/.241/.380 line and toxic contract may qualify the Angels for TARP funds. The biggest consensus AL West pick was for Michael Pineda not to reach 25 starts, with nearly seven out of eight respondents voting a-gin’, but so far the combination of Pineda’s dominance and Seattle’s iconoclastic, back-to-the-future handling of their young ace puts him on pace to breeze past that mark.
Team Groupthink is currently right on eight of the ten AL Central bets, but only a handful of these seem to be locks. Delmon Young has lived down to my expectations for him, the arrival of Eric Hosmer means the Ghostface Kila has squandered his last chance in Kansas City, and Paul Konerko has continued his late-career renaissance. On the other hand, Justin Masterson has been a great story and would have to collapse mightily in order to climb above a 4.75 FRA, but I still would like to see more improvement against lefty batters before I’m convinced he’s innoculated against a string of disasterpieces. The left side of the Detroit infield is well ahead of expectations due to Jhonny Peralta’s hot bat, but a likely cooling combined with Inge’s out-making return from injury could easily slide their combined TAv below .250.
Not surprisingly, every single contestant took the “gimme” side of the “Great Baker/Greinke VORP-Off,” though right now the two are neck-and-neck due to Greinke’s time off in April. The most interesting thing to me here is the difference in comparing “Fair” Run Average versus Earned Run Average: Baker sports a 3.15 ERA and a solid 3.94 FRA, while Greinke’s 5.66 ERA masks his 3.85 FRA. If I had set this line based on paleometrics, Baker would be winning in a walk.
Not only has the clock refused to strike midnight on Joey Bats, it appears he’s been exempted from the otherwise immutable laws of time and space. It would have been a lot more fun to set his line at 50 home runs, since almost 90 percent of our respondents wisely took the over at 25. The difference between Jeremy Hellickson’s 3.21 ERA and his 5.35 FRA is the greatest disparity among pitchers with ten or more starts, while Josh Beckett’s 2.12 ERA and 3.89 FRA put him third on that list. Matt Wieters continues to be the New Coke of young catchers—not exactly bad, but a huge disappointment nonetheless—while Curtis Granderson’s .260/.321/.604 line against fellow southpaws is no less shocking to me than Bautista’s sudden appearance among the game’s greats. Russell Martin’s recent struggles have reignited calls for a come-to-Jesus-Montero moment, but time will soon run short for him to have a chance at 200 MLB plate appearances this season.
Madison Bumgarner has already outperformed his line, and Matt Kemp would have to make four outs per day approximately through August to fall below a .290 TAv, but most of these are still in question. Pablo Sandoval is forecasted to fall well short of his 30.0 VORP line, but he’s been productive before and after a wrist injury that cost him the month of May, and he could very well make up the difference with a healthy second half. Nearly three of every four respondents felt Cameron Maybin couldn’t manage a 2.5 WARP this season, but his Petco-scented .261/.330/.395 line and +5.3 FRAA in center field put him on pace to be a four-win player.
When nearly three-fourths of respondents picked the under on Michael Bourn stealing 50 bases, they didn’t expect him to post a .350 OBP, nor did most respondents expect Brett Wallace (.291/.375/.415) to do such a spot-on impression of the Daric Barton that lives in Billy Beane’s head. Watching Starlin Castro lace line drives and Carlos Marmol struggle to control his ridiculous slider are about the only fun Cubs fans have had lately, and both are outperforming their line. Things are happier in Pittsburgh, where despite the struggles of Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates’ pitching has been a tremendous story, making this the first Buccos squad capable of posting a winning record since the Selective-Memory All-Stars of 2007.
This just in: the Philies have a pretty good starting rotation, and fully 87 percent of our respondents expected the Big Four to win a combined 60 games. So far, so good, despite only four wins from Roy Oswalt. Our readers have been surprised by the struggles of Jayson Werth (.223/.326/.382) and Jason Heyward (.228/.321/.398), the All-Star play of a healthy Jose Reyes, and the roto-pleasing power and speed numbers of Danny Espinosa (15 HR, nine SB) and Ian Desmond (3 HR, 20 SB)—though the latter hasn’t been quite so helpful at the plate in real baseball (.217/.259/.302). “Patience” is a near-lock to outperform his power projection, while “Power” isn’t showing increased patience, at least so far.
Thus far, the wisdom of crowds has been greatly in evidence, with the majority of respondents picking the right play on 37 of the 60 lines (considering projections). Only a single player has beaten this mark: Rex Babiera, with 38 right at the midpoint of the contest; the mean score is currently around 32 correct. Can Rex hold onto his slim lead throughout the year? I’ll let you know come October.